One of the persistent criticisms leveled against LEED, the U.S. Green Business Council's popular green-building certification system, is that it doesn't track a structure's energy consumption over time. Buildings are awarded a LEED plaque based on projected performance (among several other factors), not how people actually use a building. And as LEED critics are quick to point out, projections and reality don't always match up.
The plaque acts like a visual scoreboard. It tracks how a building performs in five categories: energy, waste, transportation, water, and human experience. Owners can compare their building’s current and past performance and can examine the building’s overall performance relative to comparable structures. Additionally, they can enter the building’s performance data into the USGBC’s online interface as frequently as they want—but the USGBC will require owners to submit building data at least once a year. Occupants are also encouraged to enter data, under the "human performance" section, and add complaints or suggest improvements.
As for the design: The LEED Dynamic Plaque has a simple graphical interface, with colorful bands representing different building performance metrics. "Instead of displaying the information on an axis we decided to put it on a race track," says Kim Cullen, one of the Ideo designers on the project. The design is intended to be both easy to understand—at a glance you can see how much water your building is consuming compared with the same time last month, for example—and to encourage users to strive for better numbers.
The idea is that the more users know about how their building performs, the more incentive they'll have to adopt behaviors that could help offset architecture's outsize contribution to global environmental woes; in 2010 the building sector was estimated to be responsible for nearly half of U.S. CO2 emissions. "You’re always moving on the racetrack," Cullen says, "there’s always a sense of progress."
As of now the plaque is in 15 buildings and the goal is to get them into 1,000 buildings, says Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED. He says the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, with people encouraged to improve their building’s score after seeing the data in such a readable way. (Though he does admit that certain LEED-certified buildings were upset by seeing a visual display of how much they had backtracked.) Horst wants the racetrack to someday be a universal symbol of how people connect to a building. LEED is currently working on the technology to allow people who are walking by a building to get the structure’s score via Bluetooth on their iPhone.